Friday, May 03, 2019

Mushroom "Crisps" from DJ & A Snacks

DJ&A is an Australian snack foods manufacturer, that I discovered while in my favorite city, Sydney.  I'm always eager to try more crunchy snack foods, particularly unique ones, and the DJ&A line is particularly interesting, and quite appealing.
"We love to share our passion for quality food and beverages that the whole family can enjoy. "
Unlike most snacks I go for, these are actually healthy offerings, not your standard chips.  They are all natural, have no added MSG, no GMOs, no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, etc.  And yet, yes they are intersting.

DJ&A has many product lines, based around fruits and vegetables.  On the fruit side, there are dried fruit (far more interesting than it sounds, as they have very unique fruits, like rockmelon!) and crispy fruit options (again, with fun fruits, like dragon fruit, rambutan, mangosteen ...), plus a variety of coconut based products (ranging from coconut water to coconut sugar).  On the veggie side, there are veggie crisps (including interesting mixes like the "Wok Veggie Mix" with a bunch of veggies you normally see in stir fries, like broccoli, bell peppers, green beans, and even whole garlic cloves), an entire product line just for kale chips, crispy legumes and other proteins (branded as "Nature's Protein"), and, the offerings I went for, "Crispy Vegetables".
Shiitake Mushroom Crisps.
The crispy vegetables are not your standard chips.  They aren't fried.  Well, they aren't deep fried.  Instead, they are vacuum cooked, which seems similar to dehydrating (low temperature cooking), but it does use some oil.  They are light and crispy, yet, pack a ton of vegetable into them.
"One 30g portion of DJ&A Shiitake Mushroom Chips is made up of around 85g of raw mushrooms, making them nutrient dense."
Yes, this small bag of mushroom crisps was 85grams of mushrooms!  The bag is designed as a single serving, but it did have a resealable top, good if you didn't just want to feast on a huge quantity of mushrooms.

When I went to look these up, I discovered that they are carried at Costco (you know, the land of glorious muffins), which is where most of their fans come from, but also on Amazon (although $$$), so, easily acquired outside of Australia.
Shiitake Mushroom Crisps.
"DJ&A Shiitake Mushroom Chips is a healthy snack made with mushrooms that are actually crunchy!"

I ... was not expecting the mushroom crisps to look like, well mushrooms?  I thought they'd be sliced.  But no, they were whole mushrooms mostly (some chunks).  Stems, caps, all attached.

They were crazy crispy.  Light and airy ... but not exactly.  They were light, but they had meat behind them, if that makes sense.  The light crispy nature was fascinating, as my brain certainly didn't expect a full size mushroom to eat like that.

The mushrooms themselves didn't taste like much in particular.  They'd be quite bland if they weren't seasoned.  But seasoned they were.  I'm not entirely sure what they were coated in, "spices" is what the label said, but they were certainly salted, I think peppered, and seemed to at least have onion and garlic perhaps?  They were very well coated.  The seasoning, much like the texture, was just quite fascinating.

I enjoyed eating these, at first just out of fascination.  Once the initial novelty wore off I stepped back to think about how they'd best be consumed, as actually eating an entire bag full in a sitting (even if it is listed as one serving) I think would get kinda old fast.  They didn't really seem appropriate for dipping in things either.  I tossed a few into a salad and that was quite successful - just like croutons, so much crunch, but, vegetables!

I'd get these again, and would love to try more of the product line - I imagine the broccoli florets would be a quite similar, and fascinating, experience.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Khalifa Bakers, Pakistan

As much as I love to travel, no, I have not been to Khalifa Bakers myself, as it is located in Pakistan.

I have however been fortunate to try their signature product, naan khataai, an almond biscuit.

Why on earth would I care about an almond biscuit?  By biscuit, I do mean cookie-like thing, a shortbread, and I do love baked goods, but you know I'm not generally a cookie girl.  But this is different.  A thing of beauty.  Well, not beauty.  But deliciousness.
Khalifa Bakers has been around since 1925, and is located inside Mochi Gate, in Lahore.  The bakery has been a family business the whole time.  That's ... about all I know.  Besides the fact that it is *very* popular.  They even have a delivery service in the city now.

But my experience was at my office, when a co-worker brought them back.  They came in a simple box.  I thought nothing of them, until I tried a bite that had broken off of one.  After I quickly devoured a whole one, I went to do a little research, but, still don't have much useful to tell you.
Naan Khataai
The biscuits don't really look like much.  They even look kinda burnt.  Slightly covered in powdered sugar.

But they are fantastic.  The base is like a shortbread, incredibly buttery.  Well, not buttery exactly, as they are made with ghee.  The buttery nature is intense.  They are sweet, but certainly not too sweet.  Just right.

I loved the texture.  Soft, a bit crumbly, but with whole chunks of almonds in for crunch.

I know this still doesn't sound like much, just like, well, a shortbread cookie, but the flavor and texture were really quite unique.  I found myself quickly addicted.  To a cookie.

I can't say I'l have the opportunity to have these again, but I'd gladly welcome it, if I did.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Banquet @ Longrain, Sydney

Update Reviews, 2018

Longrain is one of my favorite Thai restaurants in Sydney (and now, Tokyo), where I generally visit with a large group, get the semi-private area, book the banquet menu, and have quite the feast (as you read in my original reviews, below).

Their savory food is very good, the cocktails creative and tasty, and the dessert always stuns.  I continue to return regularly.

February 2018 Visit

On my summer trip to Sydney, I didn't have time to fit in a full meal at Longrain, but I still wanted the signature dessert.

I swung by, intending to get it to take back to hotel, but I was told that they couldn't do that.  So I sat at the bar, and ordered just dessert.  I was a woman who knew exactly what she wanted.  And I got it.
Layered Longrain Special. $12.
"Layered Longrain Special, black sticky rice, young coconut jelly, vanilla tapioca, seasonal fruit."

The signature dessert is always one that changes slightly with the seasons.  It always has black sticky rice and tiny tapioca in vanilla sauce as the base, plus some kind of jelly cubes, diced seasonal fruit, some kind of sorbet, and some kind of foam, and is garnished with coconut shreds and a sesame cookie.  I've had it with coconut jelly or passionfruit jelly, I've had it with strawberry or with kiwi, and I've had it with coconut or fruity sorbet.

This version came with young coconut jelly cubes, diced strawberry, passionfruit puree, coconut sorbet, and pandan foam.  It should have had rockmelon instead of strawberry (or maybe, in addition to?), but I had it modified due to my allergy.

It was basically just as I remembered.  I love the texture and chew from the black sticky rice.  I like the creamy coconut and vanilla soupy pudding.  The pandan foam was great, basically, whipped cream with a touch more going on.  The strawberry bits were super flavorful and fresh, the passionfruit added some crunch, and the coconut jelly more texture.  The coconut sorbet melted down nicely combining with everything else.  The sesame cookie on top was crazy flavorful, so much sesame.

It was good.  It was a play of textures and elements, and quite fun to eat.  But ... it was a bit too sweet.  It needed a touch more balance, which perhaps is normally there if you have the rockmelon, but for me, it just was a bit much.  Even more sticky rice would have helped balance a bit.

Still, I enjoyed it, and polished it off in ... 2 seconds?

July 2018 Visit

When I returned to Sydney in the winter, I had a group dinner to organize, and Longrain was immediately the destination that came to mind.  I was expecting a large group, and thus to book the private area and banquet menu, but my group dwindled to only 7, so we were seated in the regular area, just at a huge table, and ordered a la carte.
Dinner Spread.
We ordered a bit of everything to share, including signature dishes of betel leaves and the eggnet, because I wanted my guests to experience those signature items, plus my favorite curry, and caramelized ham hock I always adore, and, a papaya salad to round things out.

Everyone ordered their own desserts, which meant I got a chance to see/sample nearly the entire dessert menu, including the nightly special.

The service was fairly poor and neglectful and uninformed, the food only ok.  It didn't live up to past visits.
Large Tables.
I do give Longrain credit for having plentiful space for large parties.

One entire side of the restaurant is all very large tables, all round, with fun bench seating around half, and chairs rounding them out.

Our group had one of these tables, and it was the perfect fit, everyone able to see, and mostly hear, each other.
Acapulco Gold. $19.
"Chilli-infused Don Julio Blanco tequila, vanilla, fresh lemon, soda."

I've always praised Longrain's cocktail program, but, this was not a success.

This drink was ... a punch in the face of tequila.  All you could taste was tequila.  It was a strong drink.  A very strong drink.  With a hint of chili.

I like tequila. I ordered this for a reason.  But ... it was not balanced at all.

It did not get better with time, just, got different.

The last third of it though was just lemonade.  The ice melted, and the whole (!?) lemon that was cut up inside really released its juice.  And that left lemonade.

I did not enjoy this, would not recommend, and wish I hadn't tried to finish it.
Betel Leaf. $7.
"Betel leaf, smoked trout, green mango, cashew nuts."

I started the group with the betel leaf appetizer, because I know it is Longrain's signature thing, and no one had ever had such a thing.  This is actually always one of the least memorable dishes for me, but, I wanted my guests to have the experience.

It came about 10 minutes after we ordered, and had settled in with cocktails, reasonable pacing.

And ... it was basically what I remembered.

A fun bite, yes.  Crisp fresh betel leaf that you wrap around the filling and eat in a few bites.  There was a nice combination of sour and sweet flavors. The green mango was fresh and juicy, the cashew added crunch.

The problem was the smoked trout.  It was really mushy.  Not in a pleasant way.

I didn't care for this.  Things were not getting off to a good start.
Green Curry (Large + Small). $26 + $38.
"Green curry, braised beef brisket, Thai eggplant, baby corn."

10 minutes later, our two main dishes, and rice, arrived.  Again, good pacing.

For our first main dish, I selected the green curry, the same curry on the banquet menu, as it is a crowd pleaser, and one I enjoy as well.

Since we had 7 diners, I wasn't quite sure how much to order.  It comes in small or large.  I asked our server for advice, explaining our hunger level, and that we'd get another main too, and a salad, and expected ... some guidance.  He simply said "a large won't be enough".  Ok.  So I said, "What about a large and a small? What do you recommend?"  And he simply said, "Ok, a large and a small is what you want?"  It was very frustrating.  I tried again, "How many people does a large normally serve?"  "3", he said.  Aha! Ok, so I'd get 2 large.  I said that, and he said, "Ok, you want 2 large? But you are getting another main too?"  Then I wasn't sure about anything.  I gave him our whole order, and asked for help getting the sizes right.  He didn't really ever offer much, and in the end, we did the large + small.

When the dish was placed on the table, it was immediately clear that it wasn't enough for 7 people, but, I assumed that was either the large or the small.  I asked the person who set it on the table which it was, and he said it was 1.5 orders, that is, the large + small in one.  Oops.

So, we all just got a few bites.  Of course, we could have ordered more, but opted not to.

The curry was ... fine.  The beef tender enough, not that chewy.  The thai eggplant and corn decently cooked.  Flavor overall very mild.

Just, fine.  Nothing special.  Not worth repeating.  Not worth getting a full serving of.  And ... $64 for this bowl of curry?  Eh.
Caramelized Pork Hock (Large + Small). $23 + $34.
"Caramelised pork hock, five spice, chilli vinegar."

Our other main dish was the other main dish also featured on the banquet, my all time favorite caramelized pork hock.  I've had this before many times, in both Sydney and Tokyo and it is always a highlight.

It too came as the combine large + small order, which wasn't really enough, and was pricy at $57.

It was better than the green curry, but a considerable letdown for me, given that I've had this dish before, and it is usually much, much, much better.

The sauce was still fantastic.  Sweet, sticky, absolutely delicious.  Great with the pork, great on rice, great by the spoonful (albeit, a bit too sweet to really do that way).  I loved the garlic chips strewn throughout.  

But ... the pork was not as well cooked as usual.  It is usually insanely crispy on the outside, and the fat all nice rendered and melty.  My chunk (yup, just one, because, #portions), had one tiny bite of crisp, otherwise, just kinda chewy.  And inside?  Just fat.  Not rendered properly at all.  Not melty.  Just, fat.  It was smothered in sauce, so I could kinda ignore it, but it wasn't really pleasant, and wasn't magical in any way.

Serious disappointment.  At least the sauce was good.
Eggnet (Large). $34.
"Filled eggnet, pork, prawn, peanuts, cucumber relish."

The eggnet has been a staple on the banquet menu for as long as I can remember, but was recently replaced with the papaya salad, which I opted to do on this visit too to try something different.

But once we saw our portions and realized we needed more food, I quickly asked to add on the eggnet to boost up our food quantity.  Another signature dish, and one I thought my guests would enjoy.

Since we didn't order this until we had our mains, it took another 15 minutes to arrive, but that was understandable.

Folks didn't love it, mostly just commenting on how many bean sprouts it contained.
Papaya Salad. $16.
"Green papaya salad, peanuts, sweet corn, tamarind, chilli, lime."

Remember that papaya salad I keep talking about?  Yeah, it came a full 8 minutes *after* the eggnet, the eggnet that we ordered when we had our mains.  I'll spare you the math, yes, the papaya salad took 50 minutes.  We certainly expected it either before, or at least alongside, the mains.  

I selected this mostly because I wanted us to have a vegetable dish (this was before ordering the eggnet) and out of curiosity since they replaced the eggnet on the banquet menu with papaya salad, so, I thought it might be a crowd pleaser, or at least, interesting in some way.

It was ... a basic papaya salad.  Oh, except that it had corn in it.  I haven't ever seen corn in a papaya salad before.  It had ok spicing.

This was fine, but totally unremarkable, and not something I'd order again.
Special: Durian panna cotta. $16.
"Durian panna cotta, sweet coconut cream, mango, lemonade fruit meringue." 

So, dessert.  You know how much I love dessert.  And how much I love the Longrain signature layered dessert.  I've never managed to not get that dessert (its the only one available on the banquet menu), but also, just the only one I've ever picked (besides in Tokyo where we got multiple desserts).

For dessert, we all ordered individually.  I was torn, for the first time ever though.  They had a nightly special.  A panna cotta.  I love panna cotta.  It had coconut cream and mango.  I love those things.  It also happened to feature ... durian.

Oh my.  I was sooo curious.  I've only had durian twice in my life before, both times in Sydney, once at Chat Thai for durian sticky rice and once at Martabak Cafe for durian filled martabak.  I did *not* enjoy it either time.  But, I've loved Longrain desserts so much, and I really wanted to give durian another chance.

I quickly polled the table, hoping to find someone who would split the durian and a layered special with me.  No takers.  Out of the 6 others, 5 had never had durian before.  The other had, and didn't mind it, but had his eyes on other things.  We decided to order one for the table to split, so everyone could try a taste.  And one diner decided to order his own too.

Our server came back soon after we ordered though, apologetic.  "Uh, somebody stole the durian."

This is literally what he said to us.  My brain tried to understand.  Did he really just say that?  Yes, yes he did.  He said that only one order was available.  We said that was fine.  And spent the rest of the time talking about stolen durians, joking about it being mistaken as trash, etc.  Also, a bit confused ... they weren't possibly breaking down a durian and making a panna cotta to order.  Does that mean someone stole the finished panna cotta?  Or, that they stole it long ago, and he just found out because no one else had ordered it?  Who knows.


It arrived more beautiful than any other durian dessert I have had.  A beautiful panna cotta, set in a glass, topped with several other layers, and meringues.  I was the first to go for it.  It did not have a strong odor at all.  I couldn't smell durian really much at all.

I took a big spoonful, making sure to get plenty of the panna cotta in the bottom.  It was ... mildly durian flavored decent panna cotta.  Well set, creamy, just, decent panna cotta with a bit of a funky flavor.  Not horrible durian at all.  Very mild.  Not exactly pleasant per se, but, not nearly as bad as one would expect.  Lots of sugar and cream can indeed tame a durian, it turns out.

The mango layer was sweet and fruity, a nice compliment.  The meringue added crunch.  Really, this was a well done dessert.

I still preferred my selection, but, I didn't mind this at all, and appreciated their pastry team for doing it.

The others though weren't quite as impressed.  The one person who had durian previously also felt it wasn't very strong, and volunteered to polish it off when no one else opted for a second bite.  The others compared it to rotten mango.  If only they had any idea how truly horrible durian normally is ...

I'm glad we ordered this, for novelty, and a chance for Longrain to actually redeem itself a bit!
Banana Fritter. $17.
"Banana fritter, coconut sorbet, tamarind caramel, cocoa crumb." 

Ah, fried bananas, a fairly standard thai dessert, that I never have any interest in.  It has been on the Longrain menu as long as I have gone, and we've never given it a thought, but I know it is popular, and have seen many photos of the green coated bananas.

One diner ordered it, and only wanted a little, so he quickly offered it up to the table.  He seemed ot only like the cocoa crumb on the plate.

I tried a bite, just to try it, because it was going untouched.

The bananas were well coated in something crunchy, I'm not entirely sure what it was, or why it was green.  The banana inside was hot.  And mushy. And ... just banana.

Meh.  Not a dessert for me, nor, for anyone it turned out.  One person volunteered to finish all desserts, but after a couple bites of this one, he too discarded it.
Taro Pudding. $17.
"Taro pudding, sweet coconut cream, praline cashew nut ice cream."

I do love taro, and pudding, and coconut cream, and praline ... so you'd think I'd be first in line to order this.  Which I was, in Tokyo when we visited Longrain.  There, I discovered that it was a "pudding" in my American sense of pudding, not a creamy dish to eat with a spoon from a bowl, but rather a British style pudding, more like a cake.  I wasn't thrilled with it there, and, although I had some interest in seeing if Sydney did it differently, it was pretty easy for me to rule this out.

It looked fairly identical to what I had in Tokyo a few months prior, same components and everything.

Those who ordered it did finish it, and didn't offer up shared bites, so, clearly successful for them.
Longrain Special. $12.
"Layered Longrain Special, black sticky rice, young coconut jelly, vanilla tapioca, seasonal fruit, sorbet."

I, as always, went for the Longrain special, a layered creation of assorted components, textures, temperatures, flavors.  Always fun to dig into.

The base of slightly al dente chewy sticky rice, topped with a layer of creamy vanilla tapioca pudding were pleasant as always, good textures, comforting.  The little cubes of coconut jelly in there added a bit of soft chew.

The seasonal fruit this time around was unfortunately watermelon and passionfruit.  I asked to have it modified of course due to my allergy to watermelon.  Usually, the kitchen substitutes another fruit in its place, often strawberries, lychee, or anything else they have on hand.  This time though, they just left it out, replacing it with nothing.  I'm not sure if that was a communication issue with my server, or they had nothing else to offer, or just didn't care.  That left just the very sweet passionfruit in this section, and the result was fairly unbalanced sweet and tartness, just above the pudding, that even when mixed in, just didn't quite work out great.

Scooped on top was some kind of light sorbet (lemon perhaps?) that melted in a bit, added a cool (literally) aspect, and a bit of lightness.  The whipped cream this time around was purple, I believe likely taro infused, although it wasn't strong enough to really distinguish.  It was pretty though.

And finally, large shreds of toasted coconut for crunch, and a sesame tuile that I saved until the near end, to dunk in, and enjoy as a "last great bite", which, I did.  Sweet, buttery, crispy.

Overall, it was fine, but I think perhaps I am actually a bit sick of this dessert, or maybe it was just the lack of fruit substitute that made it come out a bit too one note for me.  I'm still glad I ordered it, it was the best of the bunch I tried, but, I would have been happy sharing it, which is something I've never said about this dessert before, where I normally want more than one for myself!

Original Reviews, 2017

When I'm in Sydney, one of the cuisines I tend to gravitate towards is thai. It was Sydney where I really discovered how good thai food could be (and, where I subsequently was ruined for thai food in San Francisco!).  These days, I generally stick with the casual establishments in thai town, like Chat Thai or Home Thai, or the always classic Sailor's Thai (and canteen) in the Rocks.

But several years ago, when I was living in Sydney, I frequented Longrain, in Surry Hills.  Longrain is an entirely different type of restaurant, more upscale, far more trendy, with a vibrant bar scene in the front.  We weren't ever really into the scene of it all, but, it was on the way home from work, so we would often stop by just to grab a bite in the bar area.  We went a few times for regular meals too, where everyone is seated at a massive large communal table, and all dishes are made to share.  Like I said, trendy.

I recall it being pretty good back then, but it was before I wrote a blog or took notes, so I didn't recall much besides the fact that their signature item is the betel leafs.  On my recent visit (February 2016), I had the opportunity to join a large group of co-workers in the private room for a Banquet meal, so I gladly accepted, even though it was my first night in town and I was crazy jetlagged.

I'm glad I joined, as it was a good experience, particularly for large group dining.  The cocktails were creative and tasty, the food was good, the dessert was swoon-worthy, and the service was shockingly on top of things, for group dining and for Sydney, not exactly known for great service.  You can read all about that in my first review.

Fast forward a few months, December 2016, and I had a large group dinner to arrange with co-workers.  Longrain was an easy choice, and I was thrilled that the semi private room was available.  We had another fantastic group meal, which you can read all about, and I highly recommend this for anyone looking to do group dining in Sydney (our groups have been 15-20 people).

The Setting

Longrain is in Surry Hills, a little bit off the beaten path on a side street.
Semi-Private Room.
Our group the first time was 19 members, 15 the second, and we had the semi-private room on the backside of the restaurant.  I say semi-private because it was behind a divider, but not actually noise isolated from the main room.

The decor was similar to the main restaurant, with a long wooden table, wooden floors, and wood on the walls.

Our server was friendly and attentive, and did an impressive job handling our large group.  Food came out hot and fresh.

Original Review, February 2016

Our first meal was not arranged by me, but it was a large group of nearly 20.


Drink Menu.
The drink menu had the expected beer, wine, and cider offerings, plus a slew of fairly creative cocktails.  I appreciated the names of the cocktails, and Ojan appreciated that many of them were available virgin, as indicated by stars on the menu.
 Surly Temple. $17.
"Don Julio Blanco Tequila, lemongrass, kaffir lime, house made grenadine, ginger beer, lime."

I went for the Surly Temple, mostly because I wanted something different, and tequila sometimes hits the spot for me, particularly when I'm traveling (I can't explain this, I blame it on my trip to Tokyo ...)

The Surly Temple was a pretty drink, a lovely pink color, with a giant stick of lemongrass sticking out, and garnished with a kaffir lime leaf.

It was a refreshing, balanced drink, not too sweet, not too strong on the tequila.  I quite enjoyed it.
Longroni. $19.
"Lime leaf, holy basil & lemongrass infused Tangueray Gin, Campari, Sweet Vermouth, chilli bitters."

After watching Emil drink "Longronis" all night next to me, I finally ordered one myself.  I wanted a not-sweet drink, and this is the one the server recommended.  Yes, I wanted a not-sweet drink.  It happens sometimes.

Like the Surly Temple, the Longroni also had a big stalk of lemongrass sticking out of it.  It was indeed not sweet, as requested, but perhaps a bit too bitter for me.  As in ...  crazy bitter.  I did like the lemongrass flavor in it though, surprisingly.


Banquet Menu.
Because of our group size (19!), we were given the banquet menu, a fixed, family-style menu, for $65 per person.  The menu was:

  • Betel leaf, smoked river trout, peanut, green papaya, mint
  • Freshly shucked oysters
  • Filled eggnet, pork, prawns, peanuts, caramelised coconut, cucumber relish
  • Red Jungle curry of grilled beef rump, wild ginger & holy basil OR crispy twice cooked duck with sweet tamarind sauce
  • Caramelised pork hock, five spice, chilli vinegar
  • Steamed Chinese broccoli, oyster sauce
  • Thai jasmine rice
  • Young coconut jelly, vanilla tapioca, seasonal fruit
3 appetizers, 2 main dishes, 2 side dishes, and dessert, all for $65, really a good deal, particularly given their regular pricing.

One of the main courses had the choice between beef or duck, but that was a decision our host had to make in advance, for the entire group (he picked duck).  I appreciated that the banquet menu is composed of dishes available from their regular menu, rather than toned down versions for large group format.  The lineup was mostly their signature items too.

We did have one vegetarian, and he was given a vegetarian betel leaf instead of the trout one, salt & pepper silken tofu instead of the main duck/beef course, and a veggie curry instead of the pork.  Those came in individual, albeit quite large, portions.

The dishes were all served family style, with several of each dish placed on the table.  Dishes came one by one, with a new course arriving every 10 minutes or so, a good pace.
Starter: Freshly shucked oysters.
The first dish to arrive was oysters.  Since I don't really care for oysters, I skipped this one.

On the regular menu, these are $20 for 6.
Starter: Betel leaf, smoked river trout, peanut, green papaya, mint.
Next up, the famous betel leaf.  These are the item I remember from my visits to Longrain years ago.  You eat it by wrapping the leaf around the filling, like a taco.

On the regular menu, these are $6 each.  They also make a vegetarian version with pomelo, coconut, chilli, and mint.

The leaf itself was fresh and crisp.  On top were crispy bits (peanut?), that I also liked.  But, the smoked trout was really quite mushy.  The textures didn't do it for me at all, just way too mushy.  And the trout was a bit fishy as well.

This was disappointing, as I know it is one of their signature dishes, but it really didn't work for me this time.  My least favorite of the savory dishes.
Starter: Filled eggnet, pork, prawns, peanuts, caramelised coconut, cucumber relish.
The first non-bite sized dish, but still an appetizer, to arrive was the filled eggnet, a cold dish, a salad of sorts.  This is the other dish I remembered from my visits years ago.  As you can see, it is a looker.

The outside is a cage made from egg, and inside is a filling of ground pork, chopped prawns, peanuts, bean spouts, crispy coconut, and tons of herbs.  On the side is the cucumber "relish", basically, just cucumber in a vinegar with red onions, to help cut the other flavors.

This is $34 on the regular menu.
Another view of the eggnet.
Here you can see into the eggnet.

I'll be honest, the first few bites of this were disappointing to me.  Emil turned to me and said, "I thought I remembered this being good?"  Clearly, I wasn't alone in feeling this way.

The eggnet itself isn't something I care for, since, well, egg.  And, there seemed to be way too many bean sprouts.  Most bites were almost entirely bean sprouts, plus some peanuts.  Where was everything else?  The sprouts were fresh and crisp, the peanuts added even more crunch, but, there was just not much flavor.

After finishing the portion I had originally served myself, I did not intend to have more of it.  But then ... much later, we still had a ton left, and I tried a little more.  And suddenly ... it was great.  The sprouts and herbs soaked up all the sauce, and it was suddenly crazy flavorful.  This was what I remembered from Longrain, wonderful flavors and texture combinations.

I kept nibbling on it the rest of the night, until my tablemates told me to just take the whole platter as my plate.  Ooops.

So, in the end, my favorite savory dish, although it started off really not great.
Side: Thai jasmine rice.
I skipped the rice, but we were provided with several giant bowls.  We didn't even make a dent in the rice.
Main: Crispy twice cooked duck with sweet tamarind sauce.
I didn't intend to try the duck, since I don't really care for duck, but, after everyone around me raved about it, I had to dig in.

And I must say, this was impressively well cooked.  The skin was crazy crispy, as were the greens that seemed to maybe be fried?  The sauce was sweet and tasty.

But, at the end of the day, it was still duck, which was a bit too gamey for me.  My second to last favorite savory dish.
Main: Caramelised pork hock, five spice, chilli vinegar.
Speaking of insanely crispy, the caramelized pork hock was also super crispy on the outside, yet moist and melty inside.  The sauce for this was even better, sweet, yet balanced by vinegar.

Some others said that their pieces weren't great, but, I clearly lucked out, and my pieces were cooked perfectly.  I couldn't get over how perfectly crisp the exterior was.  My second favorite dish of the night.
Side: Steamed Asian greens, oyster sauce.
Our token vegetable side dish was steamed Chinese broccoli and snow peas.  The greens were fine, crisp, not too overcooked, but the oyster sauce was very salty.  It was nice to have a vegetable, but this came long after the other items, I would have preferred to have it arrive earlier, perhaps alongside the first meat dish?  Unless that is more traditional Asian style to serve greens after the meal?
Dessert: Young coconut jelly, vanilla tapioca, seasonal fruit.
After that feast, we were all stuffed.  We had tons of savory food left over.  I think most people would have opted to skip dessert (myself included actually).  But, it was part of the banquet.

So, time for dessert.  I'm glad I mentioned my watermelon allergy to the server at the beginning of the meal, even though I didn't see any watermelon anywhere on the menu, because the dessert indeed had watermelon.

As I reached for one, the server came running around the corner to stop me, a separate one for me in hand.  She caught me just in time!
Dessert: Young coconut jelly, vanilla tapioca, seasonal fruit ... sans watermelon.
This dessert was ... incredible.  One bite in and I instantly regretted polishing off the eggnet dish.  I never expected this dessert to be so amazing, given the description.

So, what was it?  It was many, many things, but, at the core, a pudding of sorts, one of my favorite types of dessert.  But a pudding with a slew of elements, each bringing a different texture and flavor to it.

For one, you can't really see it in mine, but you can see in the earlier photo, there was black sticky rice.  The rice was awesome, nicely chewy, and added a great texture to contrast with the tapioca that was a bit softer.  There was a icy foam on top, I think pandan infused, adding a colder, fluffy element too.  And then thick slices of crispy coconut, and a sesame wafer, sticking out of the top, providing a lot of crunch.

Down with the sticky rice was chunks of pineapple in mine, plus watermelon in everyone else's.

I absolutely adored this, and polished it off even though I was quite full, and these were sizable portions.  We had two go entirely unclaimed, and many half-finished, since everyone was full, and honestly, if they didn't have watermelon in them, I'm sure I would have finished those too.  So many flavors, so many textures, really quite fantastic.  My only criticism is that it was a bit too sweet overall, the black sticky rice was the only non sweet element in the mix.  I'd get this again in a heartbeat.

Update Review, Dec 2016

This time, our group size was 15.  We again had the semi-private area, and again did a family-style banquet.

Our group had several dietary constraints, and Longrain handled them better than anywhere else I've ever seen, with custom dishes prepared when necessary.
Our Feast!
We had a wonderful feast.  And a feast it was!  

The banquet is a ridiculous amount of food, far more than any group can possibly finish, and it was amusing to watch people realize just how much more food was still coming, when we were halfway through and they were stuffed.  Those with dietary constraints seemed to receive full size portions of their custom dishes, in addition the regular banquet feast, which created even more abundance than normal.

The $65 per person price is ridiculously reasonable.

Overall, it was a good value, the food was incredibly flavorful, the cocktails were fun, and the dessert again fell in my top 10 desserts of all time.

Highly recommend.


Our group started with a round of cocktails, given how fun the cocktail menu was.

I was looking forward to another Longroni like I had last time , but ... it was no longer on the menu.  I picked a backup drink, but still asked my server if it was possible to get a Longroni.  She said she wasn't sure if they had the chili bitters anymore, but assured me that if they did, she'd sent a Longroni my way.
"Lime leaf, holy basil & lemongrass infused Tangueray Gin, Campari, Sweet Vermouth, chilli bitters."

And .... our server made it happen!

I enjoyed my Longroni as I did on my previous visit, but the lemongrass stalk in it was incredibly annoying.  I didn't comment on this in my last review, so maybe it somehow didn't bother me, but it drove me absolutely crazy this time, it kept hitting me in the face and made it hard to drink.  I quickly removed it.


Since we were a large group, we were required to order the banquet menu, as I had on my previous visit.  As expected, it was a ridiculous feast, all served family style, with 3 starters, two main dishes, two side dishes, and dessert.
Banquet Menu.

Our menu was:

  • Betel leaf, spanner crab, mango, chilli, mint.
  • Freshly shucked oysters, red chilli nahm jim.
  • Filled eggnet, pork, prawns, peanuts, caramelised coconut, cucumber relish.
  • Green Curry beef, Thai eggplant, baby corn, basil  OR Aromatic spiced yellow curry, pumpkin, cauliflower, sweet corn
  • Caramelised pork hock, five spice, chilli vinegar.
  • Stir fried Asian greens, garlic, oyster sauce.
  • Thai jasmine rice.
  • Black sticky rice, passionfruit jelly, vanilla tapioca, seasonal fruit, sorbet. 
The curry main dish was the only dish where we had to make a choice: green curry beef or veggie yellow curry, and the decision was for the whole table.  I posed the question to the group, but it wasn't really necessary, all wanted beef.

The menu was nearly identical to my previous visit, the only changes being the curry dish (last time we had the choice of red jungle curry with beef or crispy duck), and the side dish of greens (this time Asian greens, last time Chinese broccoli and snow peas).
Starter: Freshly shucked oysters, red chilli nahm jim.
The first dish is always their signature oysters, one for each of us.  I skipped this as I had in the past, as, I'm just not into oysters.  Someone else in the group gladly scored an extra.

We had one diner who doesn't eat seafood, and he was given the vegetarian version of the betel leaf instead of an oyster.
Starter: Betel leaf, spanner crab, mango, chilli, mint.
The betel leaf is probably Longrain's most popular dish, although ... it changed!  For years, they always had a smoked trout version (and a vegetarian version), but on this visit, it had spanner crab instead.  I've visited Longrain many times over the past 6 years, and had never seen this before.  Very curious what inspired the change.

Anyway.  The members of my group who bothered look at the menu all asked me what a betel leaf was.  I told them to just wait and see, but explained that it was indeed a leaf.  I enjoyed watching everyone's faces when the dish was served, again, one each.  "Uh ... what do I do with this?" echoed up and down the table.  My answer was simple: "Pretend it is a taco".  That seemed to work, and my group quickly figured out that they could grab it, wrap it like a taco, and devour.

This version was the least successful Longrain betel leaf I've had.  The leaf itself was still crunchy and fresh, very refreshing.  And I liked the spice and kick from the slivers of chili.  But ... it was way too sweet.  The mango overpowered.  Maybe the smoked trout usually does a better job of balancing the sweet mango, and the delicate, slightly sweet, spanner crab couldn't do that?  Or maybe the kitchen just went too heavy on the mango?  For a dish they have made so many times it seems like they would have perfected this though.

I thought perhaps it was just mine that turned out unbalanced, but the moment I mentioned mine was overly sweet, others agreed.  This was sad, because, really, this item usually is a great start to the meal and showcases the flavor combinations their kitchen is capable of.

Still, 3 members of my party rated it the best dish of the night, but I imagine that is somewhat out of novelty.
Starter: Filled eggnet, pork, prawns, peanuts, caramelised coconut, cucumber relish.
Next was the final cold starter, this one more substantial, the eggnet.  On my last visit, this was the dish of the meal for me, so I was seriously looking forward to it.  Plus, I was excited for everyone to see what this was, because, just like "What's a 'betel leaf'", "What's an 'eggnet'" was echoing up and down the table.

The answer of course, is this stunning dish.

The main component is a chilled salad with bean sprouts, cilantro, peanuts, little prawns, pork, caramelised coconut, and more.  It is topped with the eggnet, yes, made of egg, and served with a side salad of a refreshing cucumber relish.

Sadly, I didn't love it quite as much this time.  The flavors just didn't pop.  The prawn was a bit too fishy.  I did like the refreshing herbal quality to the salad though, all the crunchy elements, and appreciated a light dish given the heavy pork belly coming up.

As with last time, this dish got much better near the base, where the flavors really soaked in.

This is the dish where the kitchen really impressed us with attention to our dietary needs.  We had one person with a peanut allergy, one no shellfish, and one no cilantro.  Those are all ingredients in the dish, so they each received a personalized version with their respective allergens/dietary preferences removed.  The individual portions were HUGE, and came plated just like the full size ones, with their own cucumber salad and eggnet.  Everyone at the table agreed that the "individual" salads would make more than a full entree sized meal for anyone normally, let alone as part of a banquet, and we still received 3-4 of the full size ones for the table too, so, uh, we had way too much of this.  Sadly, it wasn't something you could box up for later, since it depends on fresh crispiness.  I don't want to complain though, the kitchen really was ridiculously accommodating here.

This was the top choice for 2 of my group.
Side: Thai jasmine rice.
The main dishes were served with big bowls basic rice, which I didn't try.  We were provided tons of rice, far more than the group needed even if we were big rice eaters, but I think we all barely touched the rice, opting to fill up on the other dishes instead.
Main: Green Curry beef, Thai eggplant, baby corn, basil.
The first main was finally a new item for me, green curry beef.

The flavor of the green curry was great, although it was very rich.  It was pleasantly spicy and quite flavorful.  The beef itself however wasn't very good, it was very chewy, very fatty.  The flavorful curry made up for it though, and most people opted for rice only to lap up more of this sauce.

The most successful dish so far, with 4 diners ranking it their top.
Main: Caramelised pork hock, five spice, chilli vinegar.
The second main was caramelised pork hock, another dish I was looking forward to, as it was crazy crispy last time, and I loved the sauce.

This one lived up to my memories.  The pork was remarkably crispy on the outside, moist, perfectly melty fat inside.  Sooo bad for you, but oh so good.

The sauce was again a flavor powerhouse, sweet and spicy and sticky and fantastic.  On the side was fish sauce chilli vinegar, also a bit spicy, and quite tasty.

This was my favorite dish of the night, and the overall winner for the group too, racking in 6 votes for #1.
Side: Stir fried Asian greens, garlic, oyster sauce.

The mains were also served with a side of stir fried Asian greens.  Last time, I referred to these as "token vegetables".  I didn't give them a second bite then.  But this time?  Shockingly good.

The gai lan was perfectly prepared, crunchy, succulent, bitter in all the good ways.  I adored the oyster sauce, salty and ridiculously tasty.

Somehow, this dish, of simple stir fried Asian greens, something I'd never order or give a second glance, was my second favorite dish of the night.  I raved about it, but I couldn't really convince anyone else to try it.  Several bowls of it went untouched.  They missed out, I'm telling you.
Dessert: Black sticky rice, passionfruit jelly, vanilla tapioca, seasonal fruit, sorbet.
And then ... dessert.  Oh, man.

Last time, I raved and raved about the dessert, lamenting that I had filled up on all the delicious savory food.  This time was no different, except that my entire group was in the same boat.  Everyone was stuffed after the banquet feast.  I did remember thinking, while taking "just one more piece" of the caramelized pork hock, "hey, self, remember how much you loved dessert last time?  Maybe stop?"  But ... the pork hock, and those damn asian greens, were just too good.  I was stuffed.  I couldn't stop.

And then dessert came.  As before, a special one was prepared for me because watermelon was part of the "seasonal fruit', and I'm allergic.

And as before, this was fantastic, although a slightly different version of the parfait than before.  I think this is a dish that evolves with the seasons.  It still had the same black sticky rice and tapioca in the bottom, but this time the young coconut jelly was replaced by passionfruit jelly, an overly sweet element, but I did like the seeds in there for some crunch.  The fresh fruit was kiwi rather than strawberry (and watermelon for everyone else), which I liked more, just because I have kiwi less often than strawberries in California.

There were two sorbets on top, the white one that I think was coconut, and another fluffy pink one that I couldn't quite identify.  The toasted coconut and sesame cookie on top may have looked a bit haphazard, but I still liked the crunch they added too, and that sesame cooke straw was really tasty even on its own.

So, overall, a fantastic dessert, with lots of fun textures and flavors.  Creamy, chewy, crunchy, yum!
Decaf Long Black.
To go with my dessert, I opted for a long black, decaf.  Well, I intended it to go with my dessert.  It was horrible, extremely bitter, leaving me with notes that simply said: "awful".  I couldn't take more than a few sips before just giving up.

The only real miss of the night.
Longrain Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Tika Tea House, Toronto

I have two recent addictions, both things I over indulge in when travelling.  I'm not sure what is about travel, but my desire for both 1) poke bowls and 2) bubble tea seem to go up dramatically when I travel.  The amusing thing is, I don't even really care for raw fish these days, and hate rice, so I actually get poke salads, with tons of mix-ins and dressings and crunch, and go for places with awesome random things rather than quality raw seafood, and, I don't actually like bubble tea that much, but I adore taro drinks, and, yup, all the mix-ins ... so I don't care about the pedigree of the actual brewed tea at all.  Yup, who cares about premium seafood and tea, when both these subject matter are really just all about the toppings and mix-ins!

So when I was recently in Toronto, my first night, after ordering my poke (salad) bowl (with tempura shrimp and crab salad) from Rolltation, I immediately fired off an order for a sweet treat to follow, featuring taro, mix-ins, and cream, from Tika Tea House.

I had more options than I could even reason about for where to get my taro tea-like creation from, all reasonably priced, readily available through delivery services, etc, but Tika Tea House quickly rose to the top of my list.

Why?  Well, first, they had a great list of mix-ins, always a key thing for me.  And not one, but two types of cream foam topping, my more recent discovery and love.  But also, they let me customize the sugar level, which is rather essential, as some shops just load them so full of sugar and powders they actually make me feel kinda sick.  Oh, and bonus points, when I saw they use real taro.

I ordered two drinks, to make the delivery "worthwhile" (hey, let me justify it!), and to hedge my bets in case one wasn't great, and, well, because I know that keeping one for the next day (or, uh, morning) tends to make me a happy person.  Both featured zero tea, lots of mix-ins, and taro, but if you do want actual bubble tea, they do make that as well.  I just know nothing about it.

Tika Tea House scored major points the moment I saw my delivery:  the foam toppings were packaged separately!  Yes!  I adore these toppings, but when you order delivery, they so often get shaken up and mixed in, which is entirely not the point.  The drinks came classically sealed (even better for delivery) and the foams were separate.  I was beyond pleased.

The drinks were both ok, but the foams ... exceeded my expectations.  I'd consider ordering from here again.
Taro Smoothie / 25% Sweet / Sweet Rice / Coconut Jelly / Cheese Cream. $10.34.
I started with a taro smoothie,  glad to have options for customizing the sweetness with a scale of "Minimum sugar" - 25% - 50% - 75% - 100% - 125%.  I went for "Minimum sugar", which my receipt confirmed, but the label on my drink said 25% sweet.  25% does seem like a reasonable value for "minimum", except that 25% was also an option ... not really sure how this was different.  Anyway.

The smoothie was well blended, no chunks of ice, nice texture, much like a milkshake or even ice cream.  However, it ... was really sweet.  Much sweeter than I wanted, even with minimum sugar level.  It also didn't taste like taro at all, even though it was a lovely purple color.  So, great texture, but too sweet, and not the flavor I was hoping for at all.

My mix-ins (black rice and coconut jellies) were both just the right quantity, certainly generous, but neither overwhelmed.  

The rice option was quite unique, and why I decided to order from Tika Tea House.  It really made it more like a dessert in my mind, it had some substance, not just liquid and sugars.  Dark black rice, great texture, not soggy nor mushy.  Fun to add in, no question, and it slightly helped combat the sweetness.

The coconut jellies were fairly standard, but well made, not too firm, not too soft, and like the rice, a generous, but not overwhelming, portion.  I loved having something slimy in there too.  They were however quite sweet, and with the already sweet smoothie base ... it was just too sweet for what I really wanted.

And finally, for this one, I selected the cheese cream topping.  It was AWESOME.  Just the right level of savory, tangy, salty.  Not quite as light as some foam toppings other places, but still fairly light, and just crazy delicious.  I loved it, and the salty savory nature did help combat the sweet drink.  I found myself wanting to just make spoonfuls of slightly icy taro slush with rice and a generous dollop of this, rather than drink it as a drink.  Crazy good.

A taro smoothie is usually $6.59 for regular size, but my toppings quickly added up: $1 for sweet rice, $0.75 for coconut jelly, and $2.00 for cheese cream topping, so $10.34 overall.  Still, it was a legit dessert at this point, not just a drink, and the price seemed justified.

I enjoyed this, but, I wouldn't get it again.  I want more taro, less sweet.  But that cheese cream?  Made it worth it.  No question.
Taro Tapioca Fresh Milk / 0% Sugar / Iced / Pudding / Aloe Vera / Sweet Cream. $9.75.
For my second drink, I went for one that would keep until the next day more easily (e.g. not melty), a fresh taro milk.  Yes, more taro!

It was a totally different color, not the crazy bold purple, but far more pale, and looked like it had fresh taro in it.  I hope it would taste like taro, unlike the smoothie.

For this, my choice of sugar level was nearly the same scale, 25% - 125%, but this time, no "minimum sweetness" and instead an option for 0%, which I selected.  It actually was not sweet at all, which I appreciated.

The drink though was ... boring?  It really was just fresh milk with some fresh taro puree.  Not sure what I was expecting.  I liked the taro, lots of mashed up pieces, but ... not particularly exciting, and the milk was quite plain.  I guess I am used to taro powder.

I added two different mix-ins, puddings and aloe vera, just to try other things, and added the other cream topping, sweet cream, to this.  Like the smoothie, it came sealed, with topping in a separate container, which was perfect for saving until morning.

The pudding was smaller chunks than many places, which was better for sucking up in the straw.  I liked it, again, it made it more like a real dessert.  I've never had aloe vera in a drink before, but I liked it too, less sweet than coconut jellies, and I'll certainly add them to my lineup in the future.  Both mix-ins were great textures.

The sweet cream was far lighter and airier than the cheese cream, and, well, sweet, not cheesy.  Totally different really.  More like a very airy whipped cream.  Still tasty, but nearly as magical as the cheese cream.

The taro tapioca fresh milk base price is slightly more than a smootie, $6.75, but my additions were a bit less pricey this time, $0.75 each for the pudding and aloe vera, and only $1.50 for the sweet cream.  I found it curious that the sweet cream was cheaper than cheese cream?  Still, $9.75 does seem like a lot for "a drink".  Again, I say, it wasn't really just a drink a this point ...

Monday, April 29, 2019

Wahlburgers, Boston Logan Airport, Toronto Pearson Airport

Wahlburgers is a moderately sized chain based in Massachusetts, run by the Wahlberg brothers: Paul, Donnie, and Mark.  Yes, the later two are actors.  And yes they had a reality TV show about it.  They have mostly casual sit down restaurants, bar and burger focused, but also have airport locations, like the one I visited at Logan Airport, inside security, Terminal C, and in the Toronto Pearson Airport, Terminal 1, US side.  I haven't been to one of the formal restaurants yet.
Wahlburgers is a burger place, yes, but there are a ton of other options, many of which really appealed to me.  I'l admit that I was even tempted to get a burger.  Regular burgers are angus blend of brisket, short rib, and chunk, and come simple or as elaborately designed Specialty Burgers, with fun toppings, and even better sauces and spreads. And also, they serve the Impossible Burger!  Gluten-free diners should be happen as well, as they do have gluten-free buns available, and even make gluten-free croutons for the salads.

Speaking of salads, another big section of the menu is Wahlbowls, basically, salads, but, you can basically get a burger made into a chopped salad, lettuce, pickles, cheese, and all.  They have more standard salads as well (Cobb, Caesar, Arugula, etc), and even all the bowls sounded pretty good, again, fun toppings and housemade dressings.

I was also eying the fancy sloppy joe (finished with crispy onions, Wahl sauce, and cheese sauce? Yes!), or the panko crusted fried Haddock sandwich (balsamic tartar sauce!), and basically all the sides ... crispy onion rings! Sweet potato tots!  Skin on fries!  Imagine these with the amazing sauces?!  Yes!  They also are known for the macaroni salad, their grandmother's famous recipe.

The menu is rounded with with shakes, frappes, and ice cream.  Oh yes.

Visit #1, August 2018, Boston Logan Airport

Wahlburgers broke my heart.

And not in the way you likely expect.  They broke my heart by being essentially closed.

I was really excited to get a chance to check out Wahlburgers when I arrived in Boston, and had looked up closing times of everything in the airport before my arrival.  "30 minutes before last departure" was the stated closing time, so I then looked that up, and saw that our 8:30pm arrival would be fine.  Or so I thought.  We were delayed, not arriving until 9:30pm, but I still thought it would be fine.  It was not.

So, after a long flight, I kinda wanted it all.  Fried and salty rings and tots.  All the dipping sauces.  My first Boston fried haddock of the trip.  That macaroni salad.

I had a plan.  I'd pick one side, and settled on sweet potato tots, with a reasonable # of sauces on the side ... I'd limit myself to 3 (trying hard to not just ask for all of them ... I think they make like 15 total, all house made!).   I'd get a Wahlbowl with the fried haddock, and ask for the dressing to be on the side, the crispy onion strings to be on the side (see what I did there? I didn't pick just one side, lol), and add tartar sauce on the side (yup, I picked a 4th sauce, shh).  And I'd get a small macaroni salad.  I'd devour half the tots, the onion strings topping, and the fried fish on the spot, trying out all the dipping sauces.  I'd bring the salad home for later, and it would keep fine a few hours since not dressed.  I'd keep the macaroni salad for the next day, along with the rest of the tots to reheat in the toaster oven.  And I'd have all my sauces to keep using if I loved them.

Such a good plan, right?
Full Service Restaurant.
The airport location has a full service restaurant on one side, and a quick takeout option on the other.
To Go Counter.
I eagerly rushed up to the ordering window for the takeout area, and my heart sank when I saw the reduced menu posted there (from what I had seen online), as it was missing the panko crusted haddock and the Wahlbowl I wanted to order.  I hoped it was still an option, as I wasn't able to go sit in the sit down restaurant because I did actually have checked bags, and I didn't want them abandoned in baggage claim.

But I never got to find out, because, as we walked up, the cashier said, "Because it is so late, we only have the top two burgers, fries, and tots."  I asked if the full restaurant would have more, and she said no.  Kitchen was basically closed.  Fryers shut down.  Doh.  I pressed on, "What about macaroni salad?"  They would have that right, since it doesn't require prep?  NO.  Only the two burgers, only the two sides.  "So, uh, no onion strings?"  NO.  "And no salads at all?" NO.

Well, ok then.  I was heartbroken, hastily ordered just the sweet potato tots and sauces, and asked my travel companion to text me when the food was ready, as I was going to frantically find somewhere else that was open to get more (side note: uh, everywhere was basically shut down.  Very slim pickings at 9:30pm at Logan Terminal C!)

Our next visit to terminal was when we departed a week later to return to San Francisco, and I was determined to get that macaroni salad, just to take on the flight with me.  I was happy they were open, it was mid-day, and ... yup, they were out of it.  What?!  At 2:45pm?  Boo, hiss.
Sweet Potato Tots (and 1 regular tot!)
So, the tots.

They were ... ok.  Clearly not freshly fried, which makes sense, given the fryer was shut down.  Soft and a bit soggy.  Lukewarm.  But I loved the sweet potato flavor, and the texture was good.  It was pretty clear that if they were fresh, they would be fairly amazing, creamy sweet potato inside, crispy, very fried (in a good way), very salty (in a good way) exterior.  Perfect thing for dealing with post-flight blahs, right?

And they were awesome with my assorted sauces.

I also stole a regular tot from my companion, who went for a burger and regular tots.  He said the burger was a bit of a disaster and really poorly made.  Clearly the kitchen was ready to be done.  The tot was fine, also not very crispy but it was clear that it normally is, and it was funny to see it side by side with my sweet potato tots, as it was double the size of the sweet tots!  Crispy, very fried, and satisfying enough.

I did save half my portion, and brought them home to heat up later in a toaster oven.  Best. Move. Ever.

They were insanely good reheated.  The toaster oven crisped up the exterior, the inside was soooo creamy, and I just adored the flavor to these, even without sauce (although, better with of course).

I really want to try these fresh sometime.
Caesar Salad - Croutons + Chicken. $10.30.
"Fresh romaine, housemade croutons & Parmesan cheese served with housemade Caesar dressing."

On our next visit, my gluten-free companion ordered the Caesar salad, but had to leave off the housemade croutons.  He added chicken on top to make it an entree.  I certainly would have gone for the crispy fried haddock instead, but, alas, gluten on that.

It was ... Caesar salad.  Crispy enough romaine, nicely sized chunks.  A shake of grated Parmesan on top, no shredded cheese.  The Caesar dressing was fine, creamy, but not remarkable.  I generally prefer a stronger anchovy or garlic taste, something more interesting.

I didn't try the chicken, but it looked decently prepared, herbed and grilled.

Overall, fine, boring, not something I would have ordered.  I was glad I got to try the Caesar though?
Visit 1: Wahl Sauce, Mustard Sauce, Balsamic Tartar Sauce.
Wahlburgers makes all their own sauces, and there are lots of choices.  Mostly designed for the burgers and salads, but, who doesn't want fun sauces for dipping fries and tots?

Offerings include common things like bbq and buffalo sauce, creamy options like chipotle mayo, mustard sauce (that is actually mayo based), honey-garlic mayo, balsamic tartar sauce, and several cheese sauces, and even fun things like a orange-cranberry sauce for the Thanksgiving turkey burger or housemade salsa for the Fiesta Burger.

My first visit, I tried to pick only 3 to be reasonable.  I obviously had to try the Wahl sauce, as it is their signature sauce after all.  I also really wanted to try the tartar sauce, even though I wasn't getting the haddock.  And I wanted something aioli like.  I really did want to try the buffalo sauce too, and really, any of them, but, I had to be a normal person right?  So three it was.

The three I got wasn't quite the three I ordered, but turned out to be fine, perhaps better, options.

Starting with the signature Wahl sauce, the orange one.  Fairly classic "special sauce", creamy, tangy, a bit of texture, likely great on a burger.  It was a better pairing for the regular tot, probably good with fries too.  A secret recipe of course.  Solid.  I saved what I had left and used it with tomatoes and fresh green beans as a dip, and both were good pairings.

Next, the yellow one, which ended up being the "Mustard Sauce", a mustard-y mayo spread.  I was intending to get the honey-garlic mayo, but, oops.  This was a good sauce though, creamy, not too harsh or dijon-y from the mustard, and, well, honey mustard and sweet potato fries is a classic pairing, so creamy mustard sauce and sweet potato tots was in the same vein.  It was the best of the trio with the sweet potato tots, so, thank you for that, server.  I do still wish I had been able to try the honey-garlic mayo, as I was going for the honey and sweet potato pairing ... next time.

Interestingly, I got it another visit too, and found it far more mustard forward.  I wanted it in a McDonald's burger, but not with my onion rings (which is what I got it to pair with).

The final one was the balsamic tartar sauce, an odd pick perhaps, but I really wanted to try it even if I wasn't trying the haddock.  It was a good tartar sauce, creamy, and like the Wahl sauce had texture from some bits in it.  I didn't really taste balsamic, but, it was still good tartar sauce.  Fine with the tots.  I brought it home to use with fish sticks or something, but never ended up getting them, and instead just used it on a wrap as a spread.  When I got it another time, I used it with onion rings, and it worked well for those too.

I'd gladly eat any of these sauces again.
Visit #2: Buffalo Sauce.
Another visit, another chance to try some more sauces!

The buffalo sauce was ... well, buffalo sauce.  Not sure what I expected, I think I expected a creamy sauce since so many other sauces they offer are creamy.  Or something that reminded me of Frank's, as I love Frank's.  This was ... just buffalo sauce?  Fine, but not interesting.
Wahl Dressing.
The Wahl dressing is different from the "Wahl sauce", as it is thinner, and intended for a salad rather than a burger.

The flavor isn't nearly as intense in the "special sauce" direction, and it seems to be more acidic.  Kinda tangy.  Likely quite fitting for the Wahlbowl it is designed to go with (burger one), but I was trying to use it with another salad since I didn't like the dressing that came with, and it wasn't a good match.

Visit #2, April 2019, Toronto Pearson Airport

My next visit was when traveling through Toronto, where I was excited to finally get to try the macaroni salad, although I was quite full at the time.  I waited until just before boarding, to grab it to bring on board, and had a bag of ice with me to keep it chilled.  I was prepared.

I may have also ordered some sauces, saying, "I'd also like to get a couple sauces,", and the cashier enthusiastically said, "The Wahlsauce right? What others?".  Heh, she got me.  No strange reaction to ordering the sauces, and she was excited I was doing so.  She said she loves them and stocks up too, they do make them in house every day, even in the airport location.
From Scratch Alma's Macaroni. Side. $4.95.
Finally!  I was able to get the macaroni.

I opted for the side size, for $4.95, although a "full size" portion is also available for $7.95.  It was a generous size, so I think the full must be *very* large.
Alma's Macaroni. $4.95.
"Elbow macaroni, red onion, sweet peppers, celery, parsley & mom’s favorite mayo."

I'll admit, this definitely didn't look like particularly interesting macaroni salad.  And far less creamy than I was expecting, given the mayo ingredient.

And ... it wasn't particularly exciting.  Not sure why this gets such recognition ... I think I have liked grocery store macaroni far more.

It wasn't bad, the pasta wasn't mushy, but ... it just wasn't interesting.  I also don't really care for bell peppers, and there were what seemed like a far too generous portion of both red and green peppers.  Very lightly dressed.

No real reason to get this, sadly.  Maybe I need to add some Wahlsauce to it next time ...